don’t know what you got (’til it’s gone)

jack?! don’t say that. that’s not ok.

those were the words i heard my wife say to my son (almost a year ago)…as we were getting ready to leave my wife’s sister’s house…

we had been over at their place celebrating several cousins’ birthdays (including our own kids) and spending some time together as families, when those words floated up from the basement stairs…

when i approached my wife at the top of the stairs, with an eyebrow raised and a look of like–what did he say?  

she said, i’ll tell you in a minute, let’s just get moving.

well, “a minute” turned into a half-hour and eventually we said “our goodbyes” and packed the kids and all their stuff into the van.  in the driveway, while the kids were tucked securely away in the vehicle, i asked my wife–what did he say?

she turned to me and said, he said that ‘he didn’t want to leave and that he wished he lived here–because their house was so much better than our house.’

there was a moment of silence.

then, i said–really? ok, i’ve got this.

[i said that because i could see that she was at her wit’s end and done with the challenging behaviors that had ‘run her ragged’–i said that, because it was time for me to “tag in”]

then, my wife got into the van and i got into my own car and we both headed home (i had come from work, so we had driven separately)…but, i left first and flew home.  en route, i thought about all the possible ways to respond/talk to my five-year-old son about what he had said and how to communicate just how important it is to be ‘thankful for where we live’ and all that we have (i mean, i had just loaded up a shit-ton of birthday gifts for him and his twin sister, people! come on?!) – but everything i came up with, initially anyways, was either inappropriate or illegal–and could’ve potentially resulted in some sort of serious negative outcome…like losing parental rights.

then, just before i got to our house, it hit me…i knew what i was going to do.

upon arriving home, i went inside and got down to business…i knew i had to move fast because my wife and kids weren’t too far behind me.

so, i went into jack and grace’s bedroom and over to jack’s side of the room — and got to work — completely stripping his bed.  i took off the pillows, the stuffed animals, the bed sheets, the mattress–everything!  as quick as i could, i jammed all of that stuff (including the mattress) into our bedroom and shut the door.  after that, i walked to the kitchen, poured myself a jack and coke, sat down at the table and waited.

well, they came home a few minutes later and were bustling about…

i said nothing.

after a few minutes, grace went down the hall to their bedroom and immediately i heard her call for jack…

jack, come here.

so, jack walked down the hall.

i heard their murmurs–as they were talking about ‘what was going on with jack’s bed?!’ and ‘what had happened?!’

my wife walked down there too, and walked back out to me and said, uh-oh.

i gave her wink and said, yep, why don’t we go down to their room and have a little talk with our children.

when we got to their bedroom, i told them that we wanted to have a little talk with them, but especially with jack (and that grace could listen, because she needed to hear this, too)…they looked up at us, wondering what we were going to say and what all the “fuss was about”…

this is what happened next…

me: hey, bud, can i talk to you for a minute?

jack: yeah.

me: hey, mom told me what you said at your cousin’s house-do you remember?

jack: (silence)

me: did you say something like, ‘you wished you lived in their house because their house was so much better than ours?’

jack: yeah.

me: any particular reason why you said that?

[he shrugs]

me: jack, i just want to say that, while they do have a beautiful house, it’s good to know that we have one, too, you know.  we live in a great house.  one that your grandma and grandpa lived in and loved.  one that is full of a lot of good memories.  i don’t want to hear you say things like that about where we live again, ok?  because we are thankful to have this place–and, we like where we live.

[he nods]

me: could you do me a favor? could you climb up on your bed?

jack: but, my bed is gone.

[the bed-frame was there and so were the wooden slats that held up the mattress]

me: i know, but hop up there anyway, ok?

[he climbs up on the bed-frame]

me: now, it’s going to feel a little weird, but i want you to lean back, lie down on the bed.

jack: huh?

me: yeah, just lean back.

[so he leans back on the hard, wooden slats]

me: (gently) hey, jack, how does your bed feel now?  does it feel good? like something you’d like to sleep on?

jack: (right away) no, it’s not good, it’s hard.

me: (after about 5 seconds or so) i know, why don’t you sit up now.

[he sits up right away]

me: jack, i know it didn’t feel good, but i want you to remember that feeling.  i want you to remember that feeling because that is the feeling of not having anything, the feeling of not having all the good stuff you have–here in this house–ok?  don’t forget about all the good things you have and the great house you live in, ok?

my wife: do you understand, jack?

[he nods]

me: ok, good, go ahead and get washed up for bed.

[while my wife gets him and his sister get ready for bed, i put his bed back together–reset the mattress, the sheets, the pillows the stuffed animals, etc. — after a while, they come back all ready for bed]

me: hey, jack, come back up here on your bed.  i want to ask you one more thing, ok?

[he hops up on his bed]

me: why don’t you lay down and get under the covers, ok?

[he crawls under the covers]

me: now, how does that feel?

jack: good.

me: remember the feeling without this stuff? and now, it feels good, right?

[he nods]

me: don’t ever forget this feeling either–right now–the warmth, the comfort.  it feels pretty good.  that’s the feeling of having what you have.

jack: ok.

me:  good night, son.

jack: good night, daddy.

[i give grace a good night hug & kiss and turn out their lights and leave–two steps out of their room, my wife and i “high five” in the hallway and enjoy some time together (on our own) while our children fall asleep-yay!]

now, what he said wasn’t the worst thing in the world…not even close (take it from me, i’ve heard the worst things in the world:)…and along with that, they (our relatives) do have a truly amazing house, no lie–and, he could’ve been saying that for any number of reasons–maybe because they have a foosball table, new carpet and basement, or any number of other things–and we don’t–who knows?!

but, nevertheless, it was important to us, it was the principle of it all…to help him see that he has a lot to be thankful for, we all do–and sometimes we miss the very things that are right in front of us!

the things that you only see when they’re gone.

so, with that in mind…won’t you, please, have a blessed and happy thanksgiving!

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